When entering Taylor Mill, Kentucky, and Keflavík, Iceland, into Google Maps, a projected time of arrival and distance apart in miles doesn’t even show up. Though these places take a flight across the Atlantic Ocean to get there and are thousands of miles apart, they are connected through Muncie, Indiana.
Anna Clephane and Thelma Dís Agústsdóttir came into the Ball State Women’s Basketball program together in 2018, and while some teammates come from different states, these two came from different countries. Although the two shared a dorm room, they didn’t become best friends overnight.
Experiencing the culture shock of leaving her home country, Dís Agústsdóttir was not only bound by a language barrier but by her introverted personality as well. However, Clephane wouldn’t let these things get in the way of creating the bond they have today.
“I would say that our friendship is so meaningful because it did take some work,” Clephane said. “There was no clash. It was never bad blood, but it was just us having to put in that work to get the friendship out of it.”
Eventually, Dís Agústsdóttir began to come out of her shell to Clephane and her relationship with Clephane made the transition from Iceland to Indiana easier.
“It's super meaningful, especially with all the technology and stuff I'm able to speak to my family [and] my friends all the time, but having someone here physically is just different,” Dís Agústsdóttir said.
Head coach Brady Sallee has been with Ball State throughout each of their tenures. While Sallee knew seeing Clephane’s personality wouldn’t be an issue from day one, he remembered how he initially felt Dís Agústsdóttir was scared to come into his office.
He said not only has he seen Dís Agústsdóttir grow from being stunted by how shy she was her freshman year to “funnier than hell,” but he has seen the teammates develop a special bond on and off the court through their five years together.
“It's grown to the point where they're [as] thick as thieves,” Sallee said. “It's kind of the fun part of what we do. You bring a kid from Iceland and bring a kid from Kentucky into a program, [and] probably on the outside they look at [each other] and say, ‘We have nothing in common’, and they become what I’m sure is gonna be lifelong friends.”
Sallee said the two needed each other during their freshman year. Dís Agústsdóttir needed someone like Clephane, who is extroverted, to help her be herself and bond with the Cardinals, and Clephane needed someone like Dís Agústsdóttir to help her through deal with her first ACL tear.
“I think they ended up probably being in each other's lives at the right time for the right reason,” Sallee said. “Maybe only the good Lord knows why, but I would say without either one of them, their journeys would have been a whole lot different.”
When Clephane tore her ACL a second time during the 2021-22 season, Dís Agústsdóttir again acted as a source of support. Clephane said she remembered entering her room the day of the injury; Dís Agústsdóttir had left a gift basket on her bed, further proof her roommate of five years always has her back.
On the court, Sallee said the two are like Yin and Yang, balancing each other out, saying that while Dís Agústsdóttir is a “sharpshooter” type, Clephane is more of a drive-to-the-basket player.
“In our sport especially, I think chemistry is a big thing,” Sallee said. “So when you have two people out there that trust and love each other to the level that Thelma and Anna do, clearly it makes things quite a bit easier.”
Each of them said with being consistent starters on the team, they are able to keep each other level-headed and balance their emotions. They each said if they are having a bad game, they can support and be happy for the other through their game.
“I can read what she does before she does it and vice versa,” Clephane said. “So having that level of trust there, it makes it a lot easier to play with each other.”
Clephane said every year their friendship has grown more and more, to the point where on many holiday breaks, Dís Agústsdóttir goes home with Clephane to celebrate. Through these experiences, Dís Agústsdóttir said Clephane’s family has become a second family to her.
In the summer of 2022, the roles reversed and Clephane traveled with Dís Agústsdóttir to visit the latter’s home country, family and friends.
“It was great, just because I had been hanging out with her family, and her seeing where I come from, my friends and my family and [for her to] be able to connect with those people too and see where I come from was really cool,” Dís Agústsdóttir said.
Looking at each other and laughing, the two recalled camping on this trip, specifically, grilling hot dogs. Clephane said she remembers being camped in between two glaciers with a breathtaking view, but all they were focused on was grilling hot dogs on a portable grill.
Multiple times, Clephane and Dís Agústsdóttir burst out laughing when asked about their initial meetings with one another, their progression as friends and their favorite memories together. Conversely, they began shaking their heads and nervously laughing when thinking about how the 2022-23 season is their last together, both saying they are trying to ignore it.
“It sucks to grow up with someone in a way and go through all these different scenarios with them, and then have to kind of say bye to that,” Clephane said. “That's gonna really be tough for us.”
While Clephane is a redshirt senior and still has one more year of eligibility, this is Dís Agústsdóttir’s final season donning the red and white with it being her final year of eligibility. The Iceland native said she has not only been trying to have as much fun as possible this season, but she is even more driven to win the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship.
“I don't know if I would say added weight, but definitely knowing that it's the last season makes it like, ‘Yeah, I wanna win,’” Dís Agústsdóttir said.
Being at Ball State for 11 seasons and at the collegiate level for 19, Sallee has coached hundreds of players, with those moving on and graduating always being a part of the process. That said, almost half of Sallee’s seasons as Cardinals head coach has seen Clephane and Dís Agústsdóttir on the roster.
He said for Dís Agústsdóttir, and eventually, Clephane, not having their minutes and presence on the court will be the toughest adjustment for him to make.
“Like all good players, you don't necessarily replace them, you just figure out a different way to get done what you need to get done, and you just appreciate the heck out of the years you had with them,” Sallee said.
Whether it be moving across the Atlantic Ocean and having to learn a whole new culture or rehabbing through two ACL tears, both Clephane and Dís Agústsdóttir said they have bonded and grown through these challenges, something their mentor echoed.
“They've been through their own adversities for sure, but they've not let the adversity define them by any stretch, and they've grown because of it,” Sallee said. “I think that's worth more than any amount of points or any amount of wins.”